If you’re a lawyer practicing in California, there’s a good chance you spend a lot of your free time brainstorming ways to streamline the completion of your court forms and agreements. It’s no secret that filling out California court forms and legal documents can be a time-consuming process. We’ve even talked to attorneys who spend their weekends trying to find an alternative to the old-fashioned manually populated fillable California court forms that we all know and love (ha).

To help ease the burden, maybe you hired an assistant to manually enter information into PDF forms. Perhaps you’ve used desktop software like Essential Forms but eventually ran into one of the problems we listed in this blog post.

If you’re still searching for a better way to more quickly and accurately fill those California court forms we’ve got four ways you can find (and create) fillable court forms specifically for California law.

Use the fillable Judicial Council forms available on the California Courts website.

This is the bare-bones method, and it doesn’t officially support the built-in PDF readers available in the popular Chrome or Firefox web browsers. Even though it’s not “officially” supported, we did some tests and were able to populate a few forms using Google Chrome, so it’s possible this is something that’s improving with time. The forms are free to access, but the state doesn’t do anything to help you use them in an efficient manner. You can edit, save, and print the forms right from your web browser. But in our experience, this process can be buggy. If your web browser crashes or you need to shut your computer down before you save or print your work, everything will be lost.

We’ve also heard from legal professionals how challenging it can be when the field size is too small to include all the text required. It’s also very common to have the need to insert an additional field that is not included in the current form. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to add an additional field when using the online forms provided. Plus, if you frequently rely on local forms, you’ll need to visit the various county-level websites individually to find them.

Create fillable California court forms using Adobe Acrobat.

With the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, you can create interactive forms from a variety of sources. It has some pretty neat features, including the ability to create interactive forms from a Word document (and back to the Word format again). Although we should note that some forms on http://www.courts.ca.gov/ are protected, which means they can’t be exported for Word. Might not be an issue for you, but it’s worth mentioning!

With Acrobat DC Pro, you can export your forms in a variety of formats.

But while Acrobat DC Pro is great for general document management and collaboration, it wasn’t built to specifically support the needs and workflows of California legal professionals. So it’ll take some work to adapt their process to yours—and it will still likely lag behind more tailored legal document solutions. I’ll cover the areas Acrobat Pro DC is good for legal professionals in California, then go over the limitations.

Adobe currently has six versions of Adobe Acrobat, but we recommend you go with Acrobat Pro DC, since it comes with cloud storage that’ll help streamline your file management and document-sharing workflows. To see all the versions Adobe currently offers, go to their version comparison page.

The pros

Collaboration: With Acrobat Pro DC, you can collaborate with your clients or other attorneys at your firm, without sending messy PDF attachments via email. You just send them a link to your PDF, and you can track changes and get help filling in the forms from anywhere.

You can share your form by link, email attachment, or invite them directly via email.

Automatic form completion: The latest version of Acrobat can also do basic auto-completion of your fillable PDF forms, but you’ll run into problems if you have multiple forms that you’re trying to populate at the same time. It’s also limited to filling in data the program itself has captured before. That’s because autocomplete relies on past entries you made in specific form fields.

Signature fields: You can also add signature forms (with printed name, signature, and date) with Adobe Acrobat, which can further streamline your document processing. More on that here.

You can upload a signature and place it in your form or use Adobe’s built-in signature feature (pictured above).

It’s also not entirely automated. From the Adobe help site on the topic:

The Auto-Complete feature stores any entries that you type in an interactive form field. Auto-Complete then suggests or even automatically enters responses that match your typing in other form fields. The suggestions appear in a pop-up menu, from which you can select a match.

Learn more from Adobe here.

The cons

Time-consuming process: With a homegrown solution like Acrobat, you might end up spending more time double-checking your form fields for valid auto-completed entries and making sure you didn’t miss anything. That’s a time-consuming process, particularly when you have to set up 40 different versions of one form.

Difficult to stay organized: With Acrobat DC Pro, you also store and organize your documents in the cloud. But it doesn’t organize them in an intuitive way; it’s essentially just an online version of Finder on macOS or Windows Explorer.

The cost: A subscription to Acrobat Pro DC will set you back $14.99/month per user, with an annual contract.

Convert fillable California legal forms from Word docs.

Of all the ways to work with PDFs I’ll cover in this article, this is the most legacy-friendly—which also means that it’s the most cumbersome method. But depending on the types of document types you and your colleagues are familiar working with, this might end up being your preferred choice.

This workflow uses the same software as discussed above (Adobe Acrobat Pro DC; $14.99/month/user). But instead of downloading fillable PDFs from the web, you’ll create your own interactive PDFs from paper documents, Word files, Excel spreadsheets, or other file formats.

To begin, open Acrobat Pro DC and choose “Prepare form.” Out of the box, the software supports Microsoft Word and Excel documents, regular ‘ol non-interactive PDFs, and scanned paper legal forms. Once you select the document you want to convert, Acrobat will automatically detect where the forms are, and convert them into interactive forms you can fill right on your computer. Although this is an impressive feature, it doesn’t work perfectly every time. Luckily, it’s easy enough to quickly locate the missing form field and create your own. You can show Acrobat where the form is and select a form type (such as password field, dropdown menu, radio buttons, checklists, create fields with a specific character count limit, and more).

Learn more about this creating fillable PDFs on the Adobe help website here. They even have a “lesson” you can use take to sharpen your PDF-creating skills!

Each form field is customizable. Once you draw the form field, just right-click on the field and select “Properties”.

Online software with all your fillable California court forms prepopulated.

Another option available to you is to use a cloud-based form drafting tool that contains a complete library of fillable California court forms. With this approach, your documents are always up-to-date and easily fillable, findable, and shareable.

That’s where we come in. Lawyaw provides modern, cloud-based California Judicial Council forms software and is designed to save you time and effort with automated court form drafting and hassle-free storage and sharing. Not only can you find comprehensive libraries of fillable California Judicial Council forms, but you can also find all of your county-level and immigrations forms there, too.